Showing posts with label Cheryl Strayed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cheryl Strayed. Show all posts

Friday, January 8, 2016

"The Danish Girl" And the Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Danish Girl" and the DVDs "Jimmy's Hall" and "Self/less."  The Book of the Week is "Brave Enough," the new book by Cheryl Strayed.  I also bring you up-to-date on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project with "An Autumn Afternoon."]

The Danish Girl

Inspired by the real lives of Danish artists Lily Elbe, born Einer Wegener, and Gerda Wegener, this is the story of a husband and wife who must deal with the husband's recognition that, though he was born a man, he was really a woman inside.

Einer (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are a happily married couple living a bohemian artists' life in Copenhagen in the 1920's.  Einer is a successful painter and Gerda is trying to make a name for herself as a portrait artist.  However, Einer has been repressing his true feelings.  

But they come to the fore when their ballerina friend, Ulla (Amber Heard), fails to show up for a sitting and Gerda needs to finish the portrait. Gerda asks Einer to pose in silk stockings and to hold the tutu over himself and when he does this, something awakens in him.  Later, Gerda thinks it would be fun for Einer to pass himself off as a woman at a party.  Slowly, but surely, Einer's true desires start to come out as he takes on the persona of "Lily."  Soon Lily takes over, and, though Gerda thought it was fun at first, she has to eventually come to grips with the fact that Einer feels he is really a woman inside.  They seek professional help, but all the psychiatrists and doctors think he is suffering from a variety of mental disorders, until finally, one doctor understands what Einer/Lily is suffering from and offers to help Lily become a fully realized woman.

Director Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar in 2011 for his direction of the Best Picture "The King's Speech," oversees probably one of the most beautifully photographed and designed movies this year or in any year.   I expect he will be nominated for an Oscar for this. The film plays like a series of impressionist paintings, so props need to also be given to cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart.  Likewise Grant Armstrong and Tom Weaving for Art Decoration, Michael Standish for Set Decoration and Paco Delgado who all contributed to the incredible, dreamy look of this film. 

Based on the novel by David Ebershoff about the real life Lily Elbe who was the first to undertake sexual reassignment surgery and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon, this is a very timely film as discussions of transgender issues are in the forefront today, but it's also the kind of movie that could make some people feel very uncomfortable, not for its subject matter, which is actually treated in a very sensitive way, but from the vulnerability shown by the actors.  Redmayne pulls no punches when it comes to showing how sensitive a journey like this would be for someone who felt he or she wasn't born into the right body.  Likewise, Vikander holds her own with Redmayne as she explores what it would be like for someone who loved that person. 

Eddie Redmayne puts in another spectacular performance as Lily.  He has the most expressive eyes of any actor and his face records every nuance of emotion as Einer moves closer to his desire to become Lily. Redmayne's physical transformation from the more masculine Einer to the shy and tentative Lily is miraculous, much as his physical transformation from the healthy Stephen Hawking to the man stricken with ALS was in his Best Actor Oscar win last year in "The Theory of Everything," but this one is an even more difficult acting tour de force as Redmayne, through his expressions and mannerisms, makes us believe he really is Lily. I can't think of another actor this year who could match his performance, so I am expecting not only an Oscar nod for Best Actor for his performance, but that he will win Best Actor two years in a row (You heard it here first, folks)!

Alicia Vikander is right with him with another outstanding performance that is sure to earn her a Best Actress nomination. She is the hot new actress with her breakthrough role in "Testament of Youth" followed by "Ex Machina." The supporting cast which includes Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw, as a man in love with Lily, and Matthias Schoenhaerts ("Far from the Madding Crowd") as Einer's childhood friend are also first rate.


Rosy the Reviewer says...Ring, ring.  Is this Mr. Eddie Redmayne?  Oscar calling...again.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now Out on DVD

Jimmy's Hall (2014)

Jimmy Gralton returns to 1930's Ireland after ten years in the United States only to find the poverty and oppression as bad as when he left.  He decides his community needs a dance hall.

Jimmy, a Communist political activist, returns to County Leitrim to be with his ailing mother intending to mind his own business and not cause any trouble.  But County Leitrim is also a place where the Catholic Church rules with an iron fist and the fallout of the Irish War of Independence still lingers.  It is also the place where Jimmy had started a dance hall ten years earlier.  Now at his return, the dance hall remains empty.  The local young people beg Jimmy to reopen it so they can dance and have something to do.  Jimmy decides to fix up the hall for the community for dancing, boxing, art classes, gymnastics and a place for the community to share their political views.

But as soon as he starts work on the hall, Jimmy runs into opposition from the Catholic church where the old priest feels he and the Church are the sole arbiters of education, hence Jimmy needs their permission. Plus the old priest does not approve of Jimmy's communist leanings. This just motivates Jimmy more because he remembers what he went through before he left.  He decides to take on the powers that be to have the hall open once again.

As the community members meet to help fix up the hall, Jimmy shows them how people dance in New York City.  Let's just say that really makes the old priest mad -- all that shimmying and gyrating and pelvic thrusting - and a sort of 1930's Irish version of "Footloose" emerges.

As the young people in the community rally around the hall and they start poetry readings, art classes, sharing their political beliefs and having dances, the old priest is not having it.  He likens the activities to Communism and starts taking names.  He tries to shame the congregation from the pulpit by reading those names during a sermon.  One father, hearing his daughter's name, whips her. 

Jimmy is approached by a political group to give a speech about what is happening in the town and to rally the village to stand up to the landowners and the church.  People are losing their homes and now the hall has come to symbolize standing up to the landowners and the other powers that be and a metaphor for the old ways vs. the new. 

"It's not just a building."

However, Jimmy risks being shut down, deported and forbidden to ever return to Ireland.  He takes the risk

Jimmy, played by a very handsome Barry Ward (where has he been all of my life?), still holds a torch for Oomagh (Simone Kirby) "the girl he left behind," but she now married with children. Still, it is evident she still has feelings for Jimmy. They don't do anything about it, but when they dance together in a gorgeous love scene, hearing the music only in their heads, it's easy to see the love that might have been.

And speaking of dance, the dance sequences are gloriously fun and life affirming.

Director Ken Loach, whose small films champion the working class, likes to let his camera linger, so his films are not for people who want a quick thrill or fix.  His films are for the serious moviegoer who appreciates quiet films about real people, films that carry a message.  "Footloose" was fiction. This was a true story.

Rosy the Reviewer says...A little film with a big message. If you don't know Ken Loach's film, this is a nice introduction. 

Self/less (2015)

A dying rich man pays to have his consciousness placed into a younger body, not realizing what the ultimate implications will be.

Ben Kingsley has perfected the art of the contained, menacing bad guy who simmers beneath the surface.  Here he plays Damian Hale, a cutthroat real estate mogul - think a Donald Trump type except with better hair - who finds out he is dying and hears about a thing called "shedding," from a company called Phoenix Biogenics, where his consciousness can be transferred to the shell of a younger body.  

So here is the premise:  what if you were dying and you had the opportunity and the $250,000,000, to stay alive and still be you, except in a younger, and in this case, handsomer body?  A Ryan Reynolds body. Would you?  duh.

That's what's happening here.  Ben is old and more of a character type and he gets to become Ryan Reynolds.  Duh.  Sounds like a good deal to me except....DRAMATIC MUSIC...let the side effects begin!

Damian is told by Albright (Matthew Goode), the mastermind of Phoenix Biogenics and shedding, that if he opts for the surgery he must appear to have died, he can never make contact with anyone in his old life again and he has to take a bunch of pills to keep hallucinations at bay.  Old Damian says, "Hell, yes!"

After the "surgery," young Damian (Reynolds), who used to be old Damian, must learn to walk and talk again, take a bunch of pills to keep things all working the way they are supposed to, and eventually gets a new identity, he is Edward now, to start his new life in New Orleans in a very flash house in the French Quarter.  He enjoys his newfound youth such as playing basketball with the locals.  He meets Anton (Derek Luke), who takes him out to show him the good life in New Orleans clubs. And our Edward makes the most of the nightlife! So remember, it's really Ben Kingsley inside that hot face and body, so our young Damian/Edward is really a mature guy in a young guy's body.  And remember that our old Damian was not a very nice guy.

Unfortunately, what old Damian wasn't told was that he was getting a shell with a past and Damian starts having hallucinations about a life he doesn't remember.  So he sets out to find the source of those hallucinations and finds Edward's old life, wife, Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and child.  When the worlds of old Damian and young Damian collide, all hell breaks loose, especially when Albright fears Damian will find out the truth about the surgery and spill the beans.

But what the bad guys don't realize is they are really dealing with old Damian Hale who didn't get where he was by being a woose. 

Ben Kingsley is always good in his stiff, upright steely way and it's kind of fun to think it's really him inside the hunky Ryan Reynolds.  I have great affection for Kingsley because he starred in one of my all-time favorite films: "House of Sand and Fog."

Reynolds is also fine, but when did he go from being a romantic comedy heartthrob to a serious actor?  He hasn't done a romantic comedy in ages. And what is it about his teeth? Have they gotten bigger?  I first noticed them in "The Woman in Gold."

Matthew Goode as the doctor is working on perfecting the handsome, clean cut charmer which works really well as a bad guy.  You may remember him from "Downton Abbey (Henry Talbot)," "Dancing on the Edge (Stanley)," "Death Comes to Pemberley (George Wickham)," "The Good Wife (Finn Polmar)" or "The Imitation Game (Hugh Alexander)." He's all over the place!  Another Downton Abbey alum, Michelle Dockery, plays old Damian's daughter, a radical who doesn't want his money and who doesn't approve of him.

Like "Face/Off" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," this film directed by Tarsem Singh with a screenplay by brothers David and Alan Pastor, begs the question: how many are wandering among us who are not really who they appear to be?  

I hope you have learned from my blog by now that there are perfectly good movies out there that come and go in the theatres because they are not accompanied by a lot of hype when they are released, and this is one of them.

I really liked this film.  It had all of the elements of a wild ride: a little scifi with the body implant aspect; it's a thriller as Damian realizes his body has baggage to deal with and Albright and his henchmen are after him because he might talk about this, uh, controversial procedure (to say the least), and it's a strange romance as you remind yourself it's really Ben Kingsley kissing Madeline, not Ryan Reynolds. So is Reynolds playing Ben Kingsley playing Reynolds?

The ending is a bit far-fetched but that's OK - it's a satisfying ending.

Though I hate to say this film appeared on a couple of "worst movies" lists, it just goes to show that film is a very subjective art form.  But you can trust me. It's fun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...moral of the story: "Money can't buy happiness or a younger body, so be happy with what you have for as long as you have it" or "beware of controversial medical treatments that involve dying and then returning in someone else's body."  Not a good idea.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

266 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An aging widower living with his daughter and younger son arranges for his daughter to get married and in so doing makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Shushei Hirayama (Chisu Ryu, who has starred in most of director Yasujiro Ozu's films) is a widower who lives with his daughter, Michiko (Shima Iwashita), and his son.  His daughter is unmarried and seems to have devoted herself to taking care of her father. He was a naval captain in WW II who now wears a suit and works in an office.  He spends his evenings hanging out with his cronies and reminiscing. Hirayama's older son is married and has adopted western ways, but is still dependent on his father for financial help.  Hirayama's friends urge him to find another wife and to find a husband for his daughter.  Hirayama sees that times have changed and accepts that his time is over.

This is the last film by Uasujiro Ozu who did the wonderful "Tokyo Story," which I reviewed back in May and which is also one of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die." His films about aging and loneliness are poignant and right on.  Getting old's a bitch. 

Why it's a Must See: "[Director] Yasujiro's final film and only his second in which the director's favorite actor, Chishu Ryu [plays] a widower trying to persuade his ...daughter who lives with him that she should get married.  The pair's mutual awareness that such a change would leave him lonely is counterbalanced by their love of one another, creating a dilemma for each that is both banal in its everyday universality and hugely significant for the individuals involved.  Ozu negotiates this precarious balancing act with his customary mastery, exercising his unerring eye for the telling detail, leavening the proceedings with genle humor, and using the palette of colors to maintain a beautifully becalmed mood of understated melancholy."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

"An Autumn Afternoon" is the time when Hirayama's daughter marries and it's also the autumn afternoon of an old man's life.  It's also a fitting title for director Ozu's last film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Ozu really knows what it feels like to get old.
(In Japanese with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed (2015)

Cheryl Strayed talks about her love of quotations and here shares some selections from her books, essays and talks. 

The first quote Strayed loved was one her material grandmother shared with her when she was eight: "Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe."  It helped her believe that she could do anything.  When she was 12, a quote from Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Ring of Endless Light" resonated: "Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light." 

Ever since then, she says she has been a quote collector because,

"The best quotes don't speak to one particular truth but rather to universal truths that resonate -- across time, culture, gender, generation, and situation -- in our hearts and minds...Most of all, they tell us we're not alone.  Their existence is proof that others have questioned, grappled with, and come to know the same truths we question and grapple with too."

That is what she is hoping this book will do.

In Strayed's usual "one foot in front of the other" candid style, she explains that when she needs inspiration or encouragement, she turns to quotes.  So she put this book together as a "book of yes," to hopefully do the same for her readers.

If you are a fan of Strayed's book "Wild" or her blogs, "Dear Sugar" and  "Wild Sugar," you will enjoy this compilation of quotes from her writings and talks.

Here are some I really liked:

"Nobody's going to do your life for you.  You have to do it yourself, whether you're rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice.  And you have to do it no matter what is true.  No matter what is hard.  No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you.  Self-pity is a dead-end road.  You make the choice to drive down it.  It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.'

"Stop asking yourself what you want, what you desire, what interests you.  Ask yourself instead: What has been given to me?  Ask: What do I have to give back?  Then give it."

"Be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being.  You life will be a hundred times better for it."

"We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people."

"We were all sluts in the 90's."

Rosy the Reviewer says...Strayed is indeed a wise and inspiring woman. 


That's it for this week.

Thanks for Reading!

See You Tuesday for

"My Oscar Nomination Predictions"

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